Monday, June 17, 2013

THE Cake (or, the most amazing thing to ever come out of my oven)

I first got a bite of this cake about ten years ago when I was having dinner with my husband's (then, boyfriend's) family. I knew, in that moment, that my entire life's destiny was to marry into this family so that I could get my hands on this recipe. Okay, so maybe that's not the only reason why we're together today, but I have to admit it's a perk :)

Anyway, this is the most amazing thing I've ever tasted. If you (even somewhat) like coconut, you'll absolutely agree. So, without further ado, here it is...


Coconut Cake with a Lemon Cream Cheese Filling (And Boiled Icing!)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of butter (Room temperature. Cake ingredients always always always should be room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups of flour (all-purpose is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 3 cups of fresh grated coconut (If you don't want to grate your own, you can pick some up at a Whole Foods, or I got mine at a little Amish store. Just be sure it's UNSWEETENED!!!)
  • 4 oz of cream cheese (room temp!)
  • 3/4 pounds (approx 3 cups) of powdered sugar
  • 1 lemon zested (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • Boiled icing (recipe to follow)

Got your ingredients ready? Let's bake!
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Lightly grease and flour three 8-9 inch cake pans
  • Using an electric mixer, cream the sugar with 1/2 cup of the butter (You'll use the rest later)
  • With the mixer running, add the oil and mix thoroughly
  • Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix thoroughly after each
  • In a separate bowl, sift the flour and baking soda together
  • Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to your batter and mix thoroughly
  • Fold in 2 cups of the coconut using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula
  • Using an electric mixer with a wire whip attachment, beat your 5 egg whites until stiff. (For more information on how to tell what stage your egg whites are at, please visit: http://www.thekitchn.com/a-visual-guide-soft-peaks-firm-115557)
  • Fold the egg whites into the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 24-30 minutes or until the center is set.
For the filling:
  • With an electric mixer, cream the remaining butter with the cream cheese.
  • Add the powdered sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of your buttermilk.
  • Using a rubber spatula, spread a layer on top of each cake, then stack them on top of each other. The filling will eventually soak into the cake, making it ridiculously moist and yummy :)
Now for the icing:
The whole purpose of making this cake is to make the icing. Seriously, the icing is what makes this cake happen so pay attention to what you're doing here!

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 egg whites (room temp!)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/8 heaping teaspoon of cream of tarter
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.

Increase your heat slightly and bring the sugar to 240 degrees. If the sugar starts to crystallize on the sides, wipe down with a damp brush. 

Meanwhile, combine the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in a medium sized mixing bowl. Beat on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase to high speed and beat until stiff peaks form. 

Once your egg whites are stiff and your sugar water is nice and syrupy, pour your saucepan in a steady stream (mixer running!) into your egg whites. You're going to beat for approximately the next 6 hours (kidding, beat for 5-10 minutes until the icing is fairly thick and spreadable). Whip in the vanilla. 

You should have about 1 cup of coconut left. With your mixer on low speed, incorporate this into your icing. Get a rubber spatula ready and frost your cake. You'll need to work fairly quickly because if you've done the icing right, is sets pretty fast. 

Now go take a nap. You've worked hard enough for one day :)

This is what happens when your husband is responsible for cutting the cake. Hahaha!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Truth About Being a "Special Needs" Parent

I never asked to be the parent of a special needs child. In fact, I despise that term. It brings to mind images of smiling Downs kids and relays for cures for Autism. Things people generally have warm fuzzy feelings about. 

There are so many things I hate about my role as Carter's mom. I hate that we have to travel 3.5 hours to Vandy so that he can receive the care that he needs. I hate that I nearly punched another mom in the face for not making her kids stop making fun of Carter's eye patch in Hobby Lobby a few days ago. I hate that we can't go anywhere where he has to walk very much without having to remember his ankle braces. I hate that his stubbornness and behavior infuriates me so much sometimes that I have to put myself in time out and remember that these are things that he can't control either. I hate that I sometimes feel that I can't give Jake and Natalie the attention that they deserve because I'm so wrapped up in Carter's therapy schedules. I hate that Carter is the kid in the grocery store that everyone stares at because he is throwing the tantrum in the floor. I hate that his infinite pain threshold makes nearly everything he does dangerous. I hate that he has more obstacles to overcome than "normal" kids and I fear for what that could do to his sweet spirit. I hate that I can't protect him from the world. 

Many special needs parents try to make the job sound glamorous, like it's all sunshine and rainbows and they wouldn't have it any other way. Many special needs parents are full of shit. You don't smile when you're getting kicked in the face trying to curb a tantrum. You don't smile when your child zones so far out into his own little world that he doesn't hear a word that you say. You don't smile when every single time you're at a doctor's office, they seem to find something else "not right" with your baby. 

All that being said, being Carter's mom is truly the most incredible and rewarding experience of my life. It just isn't one big Kodak moment. While he has a special gift of knowing just which buttons to push to make me slightly crazy, I've never seen anyone love as fiercely as that boy does. In fact, Carter bit one of Jake's friends just a couple weeks ago when they were play wrestling because he thought Jake was getting hurt. You don't mess with the people that Carter loves :)

One of Carter's quirks is that he's brilliant...insanely brilliant...he just doesn't often let people see that side of him. But, my God, when he does let you see how much he really knows, it takes your breath away. There is so much going on in that little mind that very few people get to witness. He'll write his name, alphabet, and a few other words when he thinks no one is looking, he is better than I am at puzzles. He's incredible.


There are days where I feel like going to work is easier than staying at home. My days off feel like I'm racing between destruction zones created by a tornado named Carter. Nothing he ever does is malicious though. He's really quite thoughtful. Bob and I were trying to decide if I should paint Natalie's room purple or yellow yesterday. Carter disappeared for a few minutes, then reappeared to announce that he had painted Natalie's room purple AND yellow!



One of the biggest lessons I've learned as Carter's mom: I can laugh at things that would send most moms right off the deep end :) I think he did a beautiful job. 

Most of the behavior problems that we have come from his inability to feel pain. He just doesn't understand the implications of some of his actions (ex: You can't throw your sister off the couch just because she's in your way). We have to be especially careful when he gets excited. When he's hyper, he'll jump off the stairs and stuff like that and it's obvious that he doesn't feel the impact. We made two ER trips last fall for stitches and a couple months ago, he dumped a coffee pot on himself and despite his chest being covered in blisters, he merely shrugged and said, "Sorry, Mom. I spilled your coffee." I'm terrified whenever I can't see him because there is no telling what he's doing. 

As far as his vision and his weakness, when the boys were making fun of his eye patch the other day, it was Carter who took my hand and said "It's okay, Mom." I was so ashamed of myself in that moment for finding myself being comforted by the little boy I'm supposed to be protecting. But, in a small way, it showed me that he is so much stronger than I ever will be. His vision doesn't affect him because he doesn't know what it's like to see clearly. What he lacks in physical strength, he makes up for with the most vibrant and energetic personality I've ever seen. 

When we first started finding all of these things, his opthamologist was under the impression that he may lose his vision completely (Thank God that isn't the case now). I cried every morning on the way to work because that was the only time I was alone. I was so tired of putting on my "strong mom" face. One morning, I hadn't quite finished crying it out in the car and a co-worker dragged me into the bathroom, literally shook me by the shoulders and said "Don't let his problems become handicaps." I need to text her or something when I'm done with this because I'm not sure if she knows just how much that statement impacted me. It's practically become my mantra for when I'm overwhelmed. And she was right. Absolutely right. Carter is Carter. There is nothing wrong with that. It's his environment that needs to adapt, not him. 

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's hard. Really hard. Every second of every day. I'm grateful that God gave him to me and not someone unable to provide him with everything that he needs.  At the end of the day, I have so much more gratification because I have to put 200% of myself into parenting and I'm succeeding. Carter really seems to be thriving. Sure, there are some nights when I crawl into bed feeling like we've all just survived a war, but the important thing is: we've survived.

Easy Homemade Finger Paint!

We've had some great storms here lately, followed my some really great rainbows.
So obviously, I decided the kids needed to know the colors of the rainbow. To assist me in teaching them all about ROY G. BIV (not to mention primary and secondary colors), I enlisted the help of finger paint. We made it of course :)

What you need:

  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup of corn starch
  • 2 cups of water
(I usually double this recipe though)

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan, then put on medium heat and whisk until thickened and clearish. Once your paint is cooled, separate into containers and add food coloring to create desired colors. Baby food jars work great. I knew my kids were going to use it all that day so I just used a muffin pan. 


When we were finished, we used mini marshmallows as stamps and painted dot rainbows on construction paper. Seeing all the fun we were having, my husband even joined in. He decided that the paint would look even better on the kids' faces. 
Needless to say, I think this project was a winner :)

Strawberry Champagne Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

CAUTION: FOOD PORN AHEAD

Okay, so I actually only have a couple pictures. This past week, I obtained a large bucket of strawberries from a sweet co-worker who grows them on her farm. 

And yes, they tasted as amazing as they look!

Anyway, I was determined not to let a single one go to waste so we've had a sort of strawberry themed week. The kids took care of the majority of the bucket. (I'm thankful every day for Clorox 2), we pureed some and made fresh strawberry lemonade and, of course, strawberry shortcakes. My favorite of our strawberry creations though, were the cupcakes that the kids happily finished off after lunch today. 


What do you need?

For the cupcakes:
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of sliced strawberries
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup of your favorite champagne (Please remember that, when cooking with alcohol, you can absolutely taste the quality. I recommend purchasing something that doesn't taste like battery acid)
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
For the frosting:
  • 1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) of salted butter
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract (none of that imitation garbage)
  • 4 tablespoons of strawberry puree

How do you bake them?
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
  • Get your muffin pans ready...paper liners, grease, whatever makes you happy
  • Go ahead and puree all of your strawberries. I just used a hand mixer and a bowl. A smarter person would have used a blender. Measure out 1/2 a cup to use in the batter. Set the rest aside. You'll need it for your frosting later
  • In a bowl, whisk together your flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. 
  • In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, oil, champagne and strawberry puree at medium high speed until blended and smooth. 
  • While mixing, slowly pour your liquid ingredients into your flour combination and continue mixing just until ingredients are thoroughly combined. 
  • Fill your liners 3/4 full with batter and bake about 18-22 minutes
  • *Remember, with cupcakes, under-cooking is always a better mistake than over cooking. Nobody ever had anything nice to say about a crispy cupcake.
  • Let them cool completely

Now for the frosting...
  • With your mixer, beat the butter until completely smooth
  • Add two cups of the powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of the strawberry puree, and your vanilla and mix until smooth.
  • Add the other two cups of powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of strawberry puree and mix some more. 
This frosting is the perfect consistency for piping so grab a bag and frost away.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Magic Milk

Before you get all excited, this post has nothing to do with ridiculously beautiful men prancing around in nothing but their underwear. We keep it PG here on this blog :)

This experiment has been repeated in my house many times and, in fact, is how I managed to get dinner ready at a decent time this evening. The best part about it is you already have everything you need right in your kitchen. (If not, you desperately need to get yourself to the store!)

Materials:

  • Milk (Whole works best...this project is based on the fat content of the milk)
  • Food coloring
  • Pie pan (or I guess a plate would work too)
  • Dish detergent
  • Q-tips

How do you do it?

Pour enough milk in your pan to completely cover the bottom. 1/4" will do. Then choose a few different colors of food coloring and put 3-4 drops of each near the center like this...

Next, coat one end of your Q-tip in the dish detergent, then place it in the middle of your pan of milk. Here, let Natalie show you how it's done!







All you have to do is hold the Q-tip still in the milk for about 30 seconds of awesomeness. Your milk will end up looking something like this. 




Cool, right? So how does it work?

Milk is made up of mostly water but it also contains fat and proteins. The dish soap, however, is made up of molecules that are bipolar (hydrophilic or, water-loving on the polar end, and hydrophobic, or water fearing on the non-polar end). I explained this to Jake as the opposite ends being somewhat like a magnet. The water-loving molecules are attracted to the water in the milk and dissolve. The water fearing molecules on the other hand, latched on to the fat and proteins. With all of that rearranging going on, everything gets pushed around very rapidly, which is what you see with the movement of the food coloring. 

Have fun!

Lava Lamp in a Jar

When I promised Jake a different experiment every day this summer, I quickly realized that I truly have my work cut out for me. Every day when I put the kids to bed, I'm scouring the internet in an attempt to find inspiration to get us through the rest of the summer. Hopefully, I can live up to the task!

This project was ridiculously simple. No mess, took seconds to set up, and was tons of fun. Not to mention it provided the perfect background for a discussion on density.

Materials:

  • A glass, jar, or bottle (preferably one with a lid...we used a spaghetti sauce jar)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Alka-Seltzer

The instructions are simple! Fill your jar about 3/4 full of vegetable oil. Then fill the rest of the way with water. Leave a little room at the top of the jar though, you don't want it overflowing. (Notice how the water sinks to the bottom while the oil floats on top.)

Add about 10-12 drops of food coloring and stir. (It only colors the water. Hmmmm....) You want your water to be fairly dark in color so you can really see what's about to happen. 

Wait just a minute for the mixture to settle back down from all that stirring. Cut your Alka-Seltzer tablets into smaller pieces (like 6 or so) and drop in one piece at a time. Then, sit back and watch the magic...er...science happen!


So, how does this work? 

We all know that oil doesn't mix with water. Water is heavier (more dense), which explains why it sinks to the bottom of the jar. This also explains why the food coloring only mixes with the water. Their densities are similar and their molecules are much more friendly with each other :)

When you add the Alka-Seltzer, this causes little carbon dioxide bubbles to form. These bubbles attach themselves to the colored water, making them float up to the top of the jar. When they pop, the little blobs of water float back down. Voila! 

Note: Once you used up all of your Alka-Seltzer and all the bubbling has settled down, tightly screw your lid on the jar and tilt from side to side. The oil and water combo makes a neat wave motion that just might keep your little scientist entertained for a few more minutes!


Summertime = Science Time

School let out two weeks ago (I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one) and being the geeky mom that I am, I've set up a curriculum of sorts for the kids to stay on top of their game over summer break. Every day (for no more than an hour) Jake practices reading, spelling, or math, and then is "rewarded" with a different science or art project. The trick is, he has to be learning something with these projects whether it be working with different media, or just figuring out why different combinations of ingredients create an explosion. Everything we do is incredibly simple and uses very few ingredients that you don't already have laying around the house. 

Here is a video of one of our recent favorites. (Seriously, we had to immediately leave the house to purchase another liter of Diet Coke and go demonstrate this at Grandma's house!)


Materials:

1 or 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke
2 Mentos

Just drop the Mentos in and take a few steps back!

video

See! Even Carter and Natalie got to enjoy this one!

How does it work? Well, to explain it in terms a 7 year old would understand, it is a chemical reaction. The "fizz" in soda is made up of carbon dioxide. The same stuff you exhale. When the mint is dropped in the soda, it causes the carbon dioxide to rapidly separate itself from the rest of the drink and come rushing out the top!